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Why Does Spock Never Talk About His Long-Lost Sister, Michael Burnham?


Why Does Spock Never Talk About His Long-Lost Sister, Michael Burnham?


Summary

  • Spock made a tough decision to keep his adopted sister a secret to protect the galaxy in “Star Trek: Discovery.”
  • Spock’s history of keeping personal matters private helps explain why he never mentioned Michael Burnham.
  • The addition of Michael Burnham to the Star Trek timeline has interesting implications for the Kelvin timeline.



When it comes to Star Trek, there is arguably no character more associated with the franchise than Spock. The Vulcan First Officer became the breakout character of the series and remained a fixture in pop culture. He is one of the few characters to make it past the original pilot for the series and then be a major character on not just Star Trek: The Original Series but original actor Leonard Nimoy returned to play a role in all six live-action films, two episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation and the two J.J. Abrams-directed reboots where he passed the baton on to actor Zachary Quinto. In addition, actor Ethan Peck plays a young Spock on both Star Trek: Discovery and Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, making him the character to appear in the most entries in the franchise.


As Spock’s popularity grew, creators decided to expand on his backstory. One of the most controversial decisions was the revelation of Michael Burnham, played by Sonequa Martin-Green in the series Star Trek: Discovery. The series established her as the adopted sister of Spock, a human who was raised alongside Spock by his parents, Sarek and Amanda Grayson. This was a major shock to fans as it was a huge retcon to the franchise. Plus, with Star Trek: Discovery originally being a prequel series, the character was never mentioned by Spock or anyone else in the rest of the franchise.

While the obvious answer was the character was not created then, the writers of Star Trek: Discovery came up with an answer that fits within the established Star Trek timeline to explain why she was never brought up again despite her close connection to Spock. This is why Spock never mentioned his adopted sister, Michael Burnham, before.



Spock Vowed Never To Speak of Her or the Crew of the Enterprise to Save the Galaxy

Star Trek: Discovery season one firmly established that Michael Burnham was adopted by Sarek and his wife, Amanda Grayson, following the disappearance of her parents at a young age. Then, in Season 2, she introduced characters like Captain Pike and Number One, who debuted in the original pilot for Star Trek alongside Spock. This raised many more concerns about how nobody ever mentioned Spock’s adopted sister. The series provides an explanation in the season two finale, “Such Sweet Sorrow, Part 2.” The Crew of the USS Discovery is able to take the rouge AI villain Control into the 31st century, which prevented itself from establishing.


The USS Discovery is reported to have been destroyed in action. To prevent another rouge AI like Control from emerging and risking Discovery’s sacrifice being in vain, Spock proposed to the surviving members of the USS Enterprise and allies of Discovery to never speak of the ship or its crew again, wiping it from history essentially. This takes place in the year 2258, about eight years before the events of Star Trek: The Original Series. This was also years before Spock met many members of the crew he was closely associated with, like James Kirk, Leonard “Bones” McCoy, or Uhura, so they never met Michael Burnham or knew of her existence.

This development creates a new context for viewing Star Trek: The Original Series and all subsequent stories featuring Spock after Star Trek: Discovery. He is keeping the pain of losing his adopted sister, Michael Burnham, to himself, but he also theorizes that the crew of Discovery survived and will emerge alive in the future, which he is proven correct. While Spock does not live to see it, Michael Burnham does get to see Spock’s impact on the galaxy in her absence and looks to preserve the Federation her brother defined.


Spock Is Known For Keeping Things From His Friends Before

Spock, being half-human and half-Vulcan, has been known to keep things from his closest friends until it is time to inform them of an important piece of news. This is best summed up in his younger Kelvin timeline, when in Star Trek Into Darkness he informs Captain Kirk that their new science officer is, in fact, Carol Marcus, the daughter of Admiral Marcus. When Kirk asks him when he is going to tell him, Spock replies, “When it became relevant, as it just did.”


This is clear many times in Star Trek: The Original Series. The first was in the season two premiere, “Amok Time,” where Kirk discovers that Spock is bothered to T’Pring and set to be married. Later in that season, in episode ten, “Journey to Babel,” audiences are introduced to Spock’s father, Sarek, for the first time. Kirk was surprised at the announced familial connection between them as it was clear Spock never revealed much about his family to Kirk, and the Captain only gets details from talking to Spock’s mother, Amanda. These two incidents show that Spock was never one to talk about himself to Kirk, so it is not out of the realm of possibility to believe that Spock would never mention Michael Burnham in public to anyone.

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This also is not the first time that Star Trek has introduced a long-lost, never-before-mentioned sibling of Spock’s to the franchise and used his not being the most open with his friends as a way to explain the retcon. The main villain of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier is Sybok, who is revealed to be the half-brother of Spock, who is fully Vulcan and has a different mother. This means that Spock had two siblings: an adopted human sister and a half-brother who was fully Vulcan.


When Spock reveals to Kirk that Sybok is his brother, he is left in disbelief and thinks that Spock is lying. Kirk cites he would know if Spock had a brother, and Spock reveals that Sybok and he were raised together after Sybok’s mother died. When Kirk asks why he had never mentioned it before, Spock plainly says, “I was not disposed to discuss matters of personal nature.” showing that Spock only reveals information when it is absolutely important, even to those closest to him like Kirk. It certainly helps provide an explanation as to why Spock never mentioned Michael before.

Does Michael Burnham Exist in the Kelvin Timeline?


The addition of Michael Burnham to the main Star Trek timeline also creates a new wrinkle for the franchise in terms of the alternate reality created in J.J. Abrams’s 2009 reboot, Star Trek. That film features a younger Spock and Kirk meeting at an earlier point in their lives, but no mention is made of Michael Burnham, despite Spock’s parents being prominently featured in the first film. In fact, in the Kelvin timeline of films, it seems that the divergent event is what led to her never needing to be adopted.

The USS Kelvin is attacked and destroyed, resulting in the creation of a new timeline in 2233. In the original Star Trek timeline, Michael Burnham’s parents did not go missing until 2236, which led to her being adopted and raised by Sarek. Since this is three years after the event of the Kelvin timeline’s divergent origin point, it stands to reason the ripple effect in the galaxy meant that Michael Burnham’s parents never went missing, and therefore, she was never adopted and raised alongside Spock. In the Kelvin timeline, Spock never had a sister, and Michael Burnham had to live and grow up with her birth parents.


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This might be an intentional choice by the creators as the showrunner of Star Trek: Discovery is Alex Kurtzman, who also was the co-writer of 2009’s Star Trek, which created the Kelvin timeline and established the rules of how the universe works from branching off from the point of Nero’s ship coming through the black hole. When writing Star Trek: Discovery, he likely picked the year that Michael Burnham’s parents went missing to be set after that stardate, so it could be implied in the Kelvin timeline it altered events to where she would never need to be adopted.

It appears the creators have done a good job providing plenty of in-universe explanations for why Spock never mentioned his adopted sister in the original Star Trek series or in the Kelvin timeline movies.


Check out our interview with Michael Burnham herself, Sonequa Martin-Green, on the final season of Star Trek: Discovery below.

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